These days there is a much concern about healthy gut bacteria. It’s great when you can defend yourself against certain food born bacteria and a good defense is eating fermented food to help balance the good and bad bacteria floating around in you.
Even if it’s not bugs of the holidays, with all the over processed food conveniently available our guts don’t stand a chance taking on a chemical warfare of flavor enhancers, anti caking agents, and colorants as well. Time to hit the reset button! We need to turn to the things Grandma and Grandpa used to do; that is to say, get back to the basics in our everyday food preparation.
There are a lot of products available at the supermarket and the drug store to help bolster that healthy gut bacteria; things like yogurt, kefir, kombucha and probiotic pills. These things are expensive! Except for the pills, these things can be cultured at home but all one really needs to feed their gut the good stuff is a head of cabbage and some salt.
It is a week long process to culture these healthy bacteria already living on your head of cabbage: Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Lactobacillus brevis, Pediococcus pentosaceus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus bavaricus. All of this can be had for about forty cents. You just have to like sour kraut. Even if you don’t, you might like the fresh stuff because the taste and texture is far superior to anything store bought.
First, you’ll need a good knife, a small mouthed quart Mason jar and a standard pickle jar that has been thoroughly cleaned. Next, chop a head of cabbage into thin strips, cutting lengthwise then cutting one half at a time into 1/8th inch shreds. In a gallon size freezer bag sprinkle two teaspoons non-iodized salt over the shredded cabbage, seal it with as little air as possible and pound it with your fist or a can of soup or a heavy sauce pan..what ever you like to use. Take out a measure of frustration on this cabbage until you notice it rendering some juice.
It will take a bit of time to stuff as much cabbage as possible into the mason jar from the bag but do so until you see the level of juice rise. After releasing your frustration you will have the patience to persevere. Keep stuffing until the juice rises all the way to the top of the cabbage. Stuff, stuff, stuff! Take a rest if the juice isn’t there yet. After a few minutes the salt will help render enough to cover the cabbage. If it’s not happening after ten minutes or so, a splash of non chlorinated water is all it should take to cover the cabbage. Almost an entire average head of cabbage will fit in the jar.
Invert the clean pickle jar over the mason jar and you will have created the perfect fermenting vessel. It will keep out dust and other unwanted air born stuff yet let carbon dioxide gas escape without blowing up on your counter. That’s it! All you have to do now is wait about a week, maybe more if you like a mushier product. You can taste it along the way to check your progress.
From day two to about day four, if you keep your jar at around 72 °F, you will notice bubbles increasing on the surface each day then diminishing the rest of the week. Those first four days the fermentation is in high gear. It continues but the kraut becomes more mellow and a bit softer in the last four days. You don’t want it to go so far as to get it too mushy or the good bacteria will have languished, thus, the product is less beneficial.
It is important for the cabbage to be covered in liquid and press out all air bubbles. If air gets to the cabbage it may oxidize and turn brown. Having a little brown does not mean a total fail. Just remove the oxidized pieces, place a tight lid on and refrigerate after the 8 days. It will still be perfectly edible.
Our grandparents and ancestors from all countries did these things to preserve food to survive harsh winters. Want to be tough like them? It takes guts! So take care of yours with your own special recipe for sauerkraut.
During the wintry months it’s good to find projects that make us think about the seasons ahead of homegrown tomatoes and fresh green beans, tilling the soil and tending the garden. In my mind I hear the sounds of life teeming all around from birds you only hear in warmer times like the goldfinches and Carolina wrens, to the chorus of cicadas in the evening and the crickets chirping at night. Even though it’s 7°F outside right now, we found a bargain at the supermarket which sparked our normally autumnal desire to do some canning.
Since there was a great sale of potatoes, carrots and even chicken breasts, we purchased a good amount to preserve. Canning is usually a late summer to autumn activity but doing it in the dead of winter not only gives us a great project to while away these times of cabin fever, but also serves to save us money in the future. Carrots aren’t always 59 cents a bag and 10 lbs of potatoes are $1.39 only at Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day…maybe another time or two depending on crops. When you can find any meat for a dollar a pound these days, its time to jump on the opportunity. We found chicken breasts on just such a sale and discovered they can beautifully as well.
When we think about it, going to the store a year from now prices may be double on these things if not more. I’ve already seen 10 lb bags of potatoes for $3.50 a pound when not on sale. Bargain hunting can really make a difference. Canning is like putting a treasure in a time capsule. The time capsule lasts only two years but even just two years ago food prices were so much lower. We don’t see it getting any better so winter time is a good time to think about the savings of years to come. The possibilities are endless as to what bargain you wish to preserve.
Stews and soups can be preserved by canning as well. If you make a large batch of something, the left-overs can be processed and stored for another time. Think of the trips to the supermarket you can replace with a trip to the basement or cupboard for a delicious meal waiting only to be re-heated, the work already done. Save that gas money and invest it into a pressure canner. They can be as affordable as $88.00 at Target but go up to nearly $400.00 for the more serious cook. Either way, it will pay for itself if used when the food you can is on sale, or better yet, food you grow in your own garden for pennies a pound.
If I went to the store and purchased five cans (only 15 oz. or 24 oz.) each of soup, beans, spinach, corn, carrots, peaches, apple pie filling, jelly and jam, chicken and beef, I could easily spend upwards from $100.oo. For half the money or likely, much less I could put up 5 quarts (32 oz.) each of my own fruits, meat, beans, vegetables and soups with the added benefit of being organic and BPA free (metal cans treated with BPA have been linked to breast cancer and asthma). I could easily spend $1.39 on a can of potatoes but that whole 10 pound bag cost just as much and makes roughly 3 quarts…more than six times the amount prepared and available any time I want!
Canning must be done properly for the food you preserve to be safe to eat. For instance, foods high in acid require only a water bath which is as easy as boiling water but low acid foods like the ones pictured above require the pressure canning. The carrots and potatoes took 25 minutes at 10 lbs. pressure and the chicken 90 minutes at 13 lbs, pressure (higher altitudes require higher pressure). Follow the guidelines in the Ball Blue Book a Guide to Canning and Preserving. Also, I’ve found this link which has vintage recipes for free. It too is a good guide to safe preserving.
Sure, I purchase canned goods from the store for convenience but it is becoming less and less. It just makes good sense to preserve food myself and store it for leaner times. Shopping in my own home-store is convenient and there is nothing prettier than the colorful things preserved in shiny glass containers displayed in the cupboard or kitchen shelves. This, along with the previously mentioned health benefits makes me want to do all my own canning. I have the equipment so I should can…because I can.